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My apology for sports

Robert Alvarez | Thursday, December 5, 2013

This past Saturday I was driving back from my aunt and uncle’s house in Columbus, Ohio, with my backpack in the backseat with me, with the intention of doing “work.” This is crunch time for me. I had to read a couple hundred pages in one book, write a 10-page essay for another, plan another 10-page essay for a different class and, of course, make some kind of progress on my senior thesis that I had been systematically avoiding. I have been gifted by God with the ability to read in the car without nausea – something that unfortunately plagues my family – so I figured that the five-hour car ride from Columbus to South Bend would give me a good opportunity to get some work done.
Wrong. It was a Saturday in the fall. There was football. Nevermind that there wasn’t a TV with which to actually watch the game: We had a radio. We were going to listen to these games – more than listen though. We arranged a pit stop at a friend’s house in Toledo to watch the Notre Dame game. Stepping into my friend’s living room, I witnessed a beautiful harmony between technology and the human desire to watch sports: He had three active screens. Three. One was the big TV with the ND-Stanford game, the other was a projector with the Alabam-Auburn game (how ’bout that ending, huh?) and the other was a 13-inch laptop screen with Baylor-TCU. Needless to say, I didn’t get any work done.
The word “apology” used in the title of this article is not an apology in the modern sense, where someone did something wrong and they’re asking for forgiveness. Rather, it is being used in the classical sense, as an apologia, a justification of something.
Essentially, I’m trying to rationalize my excessive consumption of sports. Usually, a spectacle like the one I witnessed in my friend’s living room would give me pause, setting off my dislike for modern consumer culture and my wariness of the role technology plays in our lives – but it doesn’t. Sports, for me, are special.
Football, believe it or not, is not even my favorite sport. Being from Los Angeles, I grew up with the lore of Laker basketball and Dodger baseball. My favorite moments are Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series and Derek Fisher’s 0.4 second game-winning shot against the Spurs in the 2004 Western Conference Finals.
These moments are not only revered by me, a fan of the two teams, but universally re-watched and re-watched by fans of all teams, including the teams who lost. That is why I took time out while I was abroad in Santiago last Spring to watch the Heat-Pacers and Heat-Spurs NBA playoff series. These games were stunning examples of human excellence drawn out in a competition. I recall one play series in the Pacers-Heat games where Paul George and Lebron James went back and forth with a big dunk and a deep three-ball, only to high-five each other afterwards, as if to say, “Keep playing well, this is good.” For those of you who don’t know, George and James were on opposite teams.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that sports, for me, is an art form. In the theory of multiple intelligences, one of the intelligences is called “kinesthetic intelligence,” which is fancy talk for saying that someone is athletic. There are athletic geniuses in the world, much in the same way there are musical geniuses, mathematical geniuses and literary geniuses. When we see a master athlete perform his sport, it is akin to seeing a master composer lead a symphony.
Sports also have an intense pedagogy. Albert Camus, a great French-Algerian philosopher of the 20th century was also a great soccer player. He played goalkeeper for a semi-pro team in Algeria before tuberculosis inhibited him from playing further. When asked later about his experience playing soccer, he replied, “After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the [Racing Universitaire d’Alger, the team Camus played for].” The discipline, the drive and the fraternity of sports serve as life lessons for those who play them right. I could tell you that from CYO basketball [Catholic Youth Organization, a group that organizes activities for young Catholics in the United States and the Phillipines].
I’m not denying that there is no dark side to sports. Much in the same way the music industry can pervert an art form and bend it to different ends, the sports industry can do the same. I don’t like how much our governments subsidize sports while neglecting other arts. I don’t like how the current sports structure in much of the world preys upon people in poverty, often times in a racially charged way. I don’t like the obscene amounts of money involved in sports. Still, when I have a chance to see a master at their craft, I feel compelled to stop, watch and wonder.

Robert Alvarez is a a senior political science major living in Zahm House. He welcomes all dialogue on the viewpoints he expresses. He can be reached at         ralvare4@nd.edu
The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.